Friday, June 16, 2006

Health benefits of vegetarian diet

There are many reasons to be vegetarian purely to improve your health and to diminish the risk of contracting the diseases that kill most people in the Western world.
Research shows that in many ways a vegetarian diet is healthier than that of a typical meat-eater.
The vegetarian diet falls closely into line with the recommendations issued in two UK government-commissioned reports by the National Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy.
And, for food poisoning and diseases spread from farm animals, should vegetarians be concerned about BSE? As far as we know, there are no cases of cow pus, blood or prions being observed in rice, oat or soya milk.

So, I've collected here some authoritative sources on the subject.

* British Medical Association: "A vegetarian diet confers a wide range of health benefits. Research has proven that vegetarians suffer less from many of the diseases linked to a modern Western diet: obesity, coronary heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, diet-related cancers, diverticular disease, constipation and gall stones."

* The American Dietetic Association: "Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer. Vegetarian diets, like all diets, need to be planned appropriately to be nutritionally adequate.
"It is the position of The American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."

* A major report by the World Cancer Research Fund in association with the American Institute for Cancer Research published in 1997 provides the most comprehensive world-wide review of diet and cancer research, presenting dietary guidelines for prevention, public policy recommendations and a thorough review of the scientific evidence.
Here are the report's main findings:

  • High intakes of animal protein might increase the risk of a number of colorectal, breast and endometrial cancers
  • An increase in animal fat consumption may increase the risk of lung, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium and prostate cancers
  • Diets high in milk and dairy products may increase the risk of prostate and kidney cancer
  • Protein of plant origin from cereals and pulses is as good as protein of animal origin
  • The typical Western-style diet was condemned with these words: "...within the last 50 years, the trend has been to invest in the very resource-intensive rearing of animals. The consumption of fatty meats and of meat, milk and other dairy products has also been promoted with the incorrect message that such foods are especially healthy. Increasing consumption of meat and fatty foods will lead to a massive increase in incidence of a large number of diseases that are expensive to treat. It reflects the impact of widespread perceptions of a cultural link between affluence and Western lifestyles. Traditional diets, when adequate and varied, are likely to be generally more healthy."

From "Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective". World Cancer Research Fund, 105 Park St, London W1Y 3FB. Tel: +44 (0)20 7343 4200. American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R St NW, Washington, DC 20009. Tel 001 709 329 7744. Fax 001 202 328 7226

* From Encyclopædia Britannica:
"Medical and nutrition professionals around the world continued to examine the health benefits of low-fat, high-fibre diets. One style of eating that was receiving a major share of attention was the diet of the Mediterranean region, where the population had traditionally enjoyed low rates of heart disease and some cancers. In 1994 an international group of experts interested in traditional eating patterns developed the Mediterranean diet pyramid as a model for healthful eating. The Mediterranean pyramid called for a largely plant-based diet. Cheese, yogurt, and olive oil were included with fruits, vegetables, and grains as foods that could be eaten daily, while red meat was to be consumed only a few times a month... Meanwhile, in France investigators from the Lyon Heart Study demonstrated that a Mediterranean-style diet was effective in reducing the risk of further heart problems in individuals who had already experienced a heart attack. Some 300 patients were encouraged to increase their consumption of grains, fruits, and vegetables and to eat less red meat and more poultry. The butter in their diet was replaced by a spread rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which some experts believed to have cardioprotective effects. During a follow-up, which averaged 27 months, there were three coronary deaths and five nonfatal heart attacks among those on the diet, compared with corresponding figures of 16 and 17 in a similar group that received no dietary advice.
"The health benefits of a vegetarian diet were substantiated by the results of a 12-year survey conducted by nutritionists in London and Oxford, England. Comparing the fates of more than 5,000 British meat eaters with those of some 6,000 who were not meat eaters, the investigators reported a 40% lower rate of death from cancer among the vegetarians. Those who did not eat meat also had a markedly lower rate of atherosclerotic heart disease, though this was at least partly attributable to their much larger proportion of nonsmokers."

* From Baby and Child Care (1998 edition) by Benjamin Spock, M.D., considered the greatest authority on baby and child care:
“If a mother drinks cow’s milk, which I do not recommend, some of the cow’s proteins will actually pass into the breast milk and actually irritate the baby’s stomach. … The nursing mother’s daily diet should include the following nutrients: (1) plenty of vegetables, (2) fresh fruit, (3) beans, peas, and lentils, and (4) whole grains. Another good reason to get your nutrition from plant sources is that animals tend to concentrate pesticides and other chemicals in their meat and milk. … Traces of these chemicals can easily end up in a mother’s breast milk if she eats these products. Plant foods have much less contamination, even if they are not organically grown.” (pp. 113-114).

* Cornell University's nutritional biochemist Dr. T. Colin Campbell, director of the renowned "China Project" (a long-term study of the relationship between diet and health):
"The vast majority, perhaps 80 percent to 90 percent, of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based diet."
Dr. Campbell has also shown that excess animal protein actually promotes the growth of tumors; and most people on a meat-based diet consume 3 to 10 times more protein than their bodies need.

A vegetarian diet not only helps prevent heart disease, it can also reverse it without drugs and their side effects.

* A study of patients with advanced heart disease was published in the British Lancet, the most prestigious medical journal in the world, in 1990, by Dr. Dean Ornish, S.E. Brown, L.W. Scherwitz, et al., "Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease?".
Dr. Ornish put a group of patients on a completely vegetarian diet, which was less than 10 percent fat. They were also asked to begin a moderate exercise program, walking a half hour every day, and were taught relaxation techniques. Patients in this group found that their chest pain disappeared and their cholesterol levels dropped at a rate comparable to that of cholesterol-lowering drugs, without the side effects. Because the patients felt so much better, they were motivated to stick with this program. The plaques that had been growing in their hearts for decades actually started to dissolve within one year.

Prostate cancer has been strongly linked to meat consumption. In a study of nearly 48,000 men aged between 40 and 75, those eating red meat five or more times a week were 2.6 times more likely to suffer from prostate cancer than those who ate it once a week or less (Giovannucci, 1993b). Mills (1989b) also noted a link between meat consumption and prostate cancer risk.

Some of the world's leading sporting champions are vegetarian, so veggie food is certainly good for muscles. People who follow a varied, well-balanced vegetarian diet are eating in line with current nutritional recommendations for healthy eating, as most vegetarian meals tend to be low in fat and high in fibre.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Animals victims of road traffic

Going out on a drive can sometimes turn into a nightmare.

Along country lanes, roads, major thoroughfares and motorways alike lie the bodies of many, too many, wild animals whose paths humans have unfortunately crossed.

Only a few days ago a saw a little rabbit lying dead on the side of a motorway coming into London from the East. S/he (I never say “it” when referring to a non-human animal, and I think it’s wrong to say that: it influences us to see them as objects) must have been hit by a car only recently, because the shape and colours of the body and fur were still clearly visible.

The brown, still shiny coat gradually getting lighter in colour until it became white on the belly was a crying reminder of all the things that could have been in the rabbit’s life, a tragic symbol of all the beautiful features with which nature had endowed him/her, a harrowing sign of the tremendous waste and loss that had been caused.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Animal equality may be a better name

The expressions “animal rights” and “animal liberation” have both become unfortunately associated in a large part of public opinion with what the public considers, rightly or wrongly, terroristic tactics, intimidation and violence.
A Google site search of many media websites will reveal that this is the case: “animal rights” will come up almost always followed by “terrorists”.

“Animal equality” is perhaps a better name, because it encompasses all the internal, sometimes little more than semantic, differences among the various philosophers, activists and organizations who are, after all, fighting for the very same cause.

These distinctions may appear more important than they actually are. For example, moral philosophers of different schools of thought might provide different justifications to outlaw human slavery, but in the end they agree on the most fundamental principles.
Something similar happens within the animal equality movement.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Animal equality

Ethics (or moral philosophy: the two are synonims, the only difference being that the former is a word of Greek origin, the latter of Latin) is the rational exploration of what is right and wrong, what ought to be and what we ought to do.

Any moral theory must have a theory of moral status, defining moral agents (beings who act on moral grounds) and moral patients.

Not all beings are moral patients, ie not all beings should be considered when we make moral decisions. Some beings, like inanimate objects, don’t pertain to the moral sphere because they don’t have the characteristics that would make them affected by an action in a subjective sense: in a word, they experience nothing. They, therefore, have no interests.

So, what beings belong to the sphere of moral concern and why?

Animals, both human and non-human, both as individuals and species, possess a very high number of characteristics.

The overwhelming majority of these characteristics have no effect on the moral status of their owner: having a certain hair colour, or thickness of fur, or being able to fly, walk or swim, are examples of such characteristics.

What characteristics are relevant to ethics, then?

Although there is no absolute agreement on this among moral philosophers, there are several characteristics which are generally recognised as the likely candidates.

Moral philosophers may disagree on their specific lists of characteristics, but most characteristics will appear on most philosophers’ lists. That is: the school of moral philosophy A, utilitarianism for instance, will give more importance to sentience, whereas the school of thought B might give more importance to rationality. But basically, the characteristics of moral relevance are a circumscribed number.

Sentience will appear on almost every philosopher’s list. Sentience is defined as awareness of sensation and the ability to feel pleasure and pain.

Other candidate characteristics include memory, self-consciousness, oral language, a sense of justice, intelligence, ability to communicate, concern for others, playfulness.

Almost all these characteristics are variable. Different individuals have them in various degrees.

Human beings, too, greatly differ in their possession of them. Some human beings don’t possess some of them at all.
Newborn, mentally retarded, severely senile, brain-damaged humans fall into this category.

On the other hand, many capacities that have been proposed as a demarcation line between humans and non-humans have turned out, on closer scrutiny and as our knowledge of animals progresses, not to be unequivocally unique to humans.

Many other animals possess them in some degree. Examples of these behaviours and characteristics are the development of complex family ties, a system of morality, advanced social rules, problem solution, the expression of emotions, wars, sex for pleasure, abstract thought.

If we wish to restrict our definition of what is necessary to be included in the sphere of moral concern to higher characteristics, such as self-consciousness, oral language or a sense of justice, then not all human beings possess them, so some human beings will be excluded from the moral sphere of consideration.

If, on the other hand, we decide to broaden our definition so as to admit characteristics like capability of feeling pain, then non-human animals must be included into the moral sphere too.

There is no way to escape this iron logic.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Online poll on the circus' treatment of elephants

There is a poll now on AOL News about elephants in circuses.

The question is:
What's your opinion on the circus' treatment of elephants?
It's fine 52%
It's abusive 48%

Of over 55,000 voters, a slight majority (52%) has voted that It's fine, so take a second of your time to vote in order to get the balance right.
Every vote counts.

And please inform others of the poll.

Via Easy Vegan Info.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

How the myth of vivisection is perpetuated: asymmetry between new drugs and withdrawn drugs

Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen can double the risk of a heart attack: this was the warning given by researchers on 1st June 2006 in the UK after the publication of a study by the British Medical Council, which analysed the results of 138 trials involving 140,000 patients.

There is a problem with the perception of drugs by public opinion, which goes to the heart of animal testing and how the myth of its usefulness is perpetuated, with the help of the media.

In a word, the problem is: asymmetry.

There is an asymmetry between the ways new drugs and withdrawn drugs are respectively treated.

When a newly-developed drug is introduced into the market, it is saluted by great media fanfare and at that moment, implicitly or explicitly, an association with the animal research involved in its development is formed in the mind of the public.
“Look at the enormous benefits of animal experiments” is either said directly or somehow this message is tacitly conveyed (after all, “everybody” knows that).

On the other hand, when a drug is found to have serious (or even fatal) side effects and is either withdrawn or warned about, the fact does not make headlines, sometimes is not even mentioned in the news, and in any case there is no equivalent “look at what disasters animal research causes” message trumpeted.

So, an association is formed in the public mind between new, good (because we haven’t yet discovered their harmful effects) drugs and animal testing; but no corresponding association is formed between bad, disastrous or withdrawn drugs and animal testing.

We must not forget that all drugs are extensively tested on animals before being marketed, and therefore every time a drug causes serious problems it is undisputedly a failure of animal experimentation as a method.

Victory over vivisection on medical grounds will advance the ethical case

How should we fight vivisection?

We know that there are unassailable arguments, on both ethical and scientific grounds, to oppose it.

But what is the best, most effective strategy to use: to pursue the moral route or to follow the medical path?

Personally, although we should use both, I think that the medical arguments will win the battle. Am I over optimistic?

Perhaps. But only a few years ago all cosmetic companies were saying that they couldn’t do without animal tests, and now many major cosmetic corporations are eager to proclaim that they don’t use animal testing.

The same, I think, will happen to the rest of animal experimentation, because the scientific arguments of vivisectors are really and simply wrong.

If vivisection were ended for medical reasons, ie for the selfish reason of its being misleading and dangerous to humans, would that be a defeat for the battle for animal equality?

Far from it. It would be exactly the opposite.

I’ll explain why.

If there is one area where animal and human interests do appear to be genuinely in conflict, it is animal research.

Nobody can seriously claim that wearing fur coats, hunting foxes, going to circuses with performing animals and the like satisfy important needs and necessary desires, when compared to the suffering and death that they cause.

Even animal exploitation for food is not a necessity, given that, not only we can survive without eating meat and animal products, but in addition we survive better, on a healthier diet, that way.

Animal research, on the other hand, touches an area where important human interests are at stake: fighting disease.

If we can show that this conflict of interests is only apparent, we will have achieved a major victory which will go beyond having ended vivisection, although that in itself, since vivisection is one of the worst evils, will be of enormous importance.

With that victory, we will have demonstrated that the justification for the ruthless use (the philosopher Harlan Miller used the word “consumption”: I like that) of animals has no foundation. If it has no foundation when something vital like the fight aginst disease is at stake, it will be much more difficult for our opponents to resort to similar excuses in other fields.

We will always be able to use that victory against vivisection to show that we humans can live without the need to kill, damage and impose suffering on other animals in any major, intentional way.